Sunday, November 1, 2020

Law Students Adapting To The New Normal (ALSA Malaysia)

On 31 October 2020, I was invited for a panel session by the Malaysian chapter of Asian Law Students' Association (ALSA). Together with Miss Puteri Sofia of Taylor's University, we talked about what law students can and should do to adapt to the new normal.

Right from the get-go, we made it clear that the 'new normal' here doesn't simply refer to life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Rather, the 'new normal' refers to the future of legal education - a future that has been in the making long before the pandemic (and merely hastened by it). In other words, the real impact of COVID-19 - for better or for worse - is to bring forward the future few years earlier.

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Much of what I shared during the panel discussion have been previously shared in my past articles (for instance: "Three Ways To Keep Calm And Embrace Virtual Learning"). I won't repeat myself like a broken record, so I'll focus on something fresh - diversification.

Yes, 'diversification' is a loaded word that carry multiple meanings. Here, I'm refering specifically to our medium of learning. We shouldn't just stick to our course syllabus and lecture notes. We shouldn't be stressing excessively over studying for exams and completing assignments. No, there's more to legal education than what is taught in law school. Law school (at the undergraduate level) is merely a base, a foundation.

The best part about the virtual learning is saving time - no more hassle of commuting and beating traffic, and you're able to wake up an hour before class. The shift from final exams to continuous assessment lessens the stress from rote revision. With the extra time and energy saved, you're able to channel your focus on other productive things.

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Internship - Yes, it's possible to do part-time work in the middle of semester. There are many forward-thinking law firms out there willing to take on interns or paralegals. Research tasks are passed on via emails. Coming into office may not even be required. Allowance on an hourly basis can be quite enticing. Of course, a lot depends on your level of competence and commitment. The job can come with high expectations. But why wait for the semester break when everyone else is rushing and competing for placement? Your chances of landing a gig may even be higher during mid-semester!

Research - If actual legal work is too daunting or you're still too raw, then research work is a productive alternative. There are always lecturers looking for research assistants. Or if you're even more ambitious, you can take a stab at publishing your own articles for publication on online student journals (or even real academic journals). In this digital age, every digital footprint can count. More than a decade ago, I published a modified version of one final year assignment on a website. Amazingly, students still ask me about it many years later (and someone even cited as an authority in a moot competition)!

Mooting - Last but not least, there's always mooting - my personal passion. I've already written so much about mooting, so I won't delve into its perks and highlights (not that anyone needs convincing). Right now, most moot competitions have gone virtual - including Jessup and Vis. Of course, virtual mooting isn't quite the same as the real thing. Still, one upside is that international competitions have become more accessible to everyone due to lack of travel costs. Now's the best time to join far-flung competitions you can only dream about. And even if the pandemic lifts, there's a chance that many competitions will remain virtual moving forward (in step with legal practice transitioning more to virtual hearings).

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The COVID-19 pandemic may well changed legal education forever. Where others see changes as problems, you should see them as opportunities. The new normal is here to stay, for now and the future.

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